ALBOW GARDENS - PhMuseum

ALBOW GARDENS

alessandro iovino

2019 - Ongoing

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Nobody could imagine that one day, a fancy residential complex built for Air Force officers would become a unique example of co-existence between South Africa’s different ethnic groups/communities.

Today almost 2700 black, white and multi-racial colored people live together in the Albow Gardens community flat, a fifteen minutes’ drive from the glamorous city center of Cape Town.

The perfect setting to chronicle the challenges facing the post-apartheid generation.

Built in the aftermath of the Apartheid, Albow Gardens was originally conceived by the government as an affluent neighborhood, where the military personnel of the adjacent Ysterplaat Airbase and their families could live in nice flats with manicured gardens.

It never really went that way.

Albow Gardens has rapidly evolved into an area for social housing and attracted a growing population of squatters.

A series of run-down grey and pale yellow blocks, named with big letters from A to J plastered onto the walls, are regrouped inside a fence separating the residential area from the rest of the neighborhood.

The government has relocated poor families and elderly people in the initial letters. Scrolling down the alphabet, while you approach the J block, you enter a land dominated by criminal gangs and their affairs, from drug dealing with prostitution.

Stairways to hell

Outsiders and marginalized kids spend their days sitting on the stairs of the blocks or playing in the yards, they wake up in the afternoon and they start looking for money just to fulfill their bad habits. Most of them are between ten and twenties years old and they kill boredom getting high most of the time. Most of them have left school very early and have no job. Some kids have never even trespassed the trench that divides the community flat from the rest of the neighborhood, and the world.

Glimpses of daily life in Albow Gardens, suggest a story of poor whites, misspent youth, and a dark future.

Stories about families and smart kids trying to escape a destiny of failures and exclusion; like Cecil and Bianca, a white man and a multi-racial colored woman striving to build a different life for their nine kids.

Stories of young adults facing the devastating combination of unemployment, domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism that very often lead to reproducing their parents’ mistakes.

In Albow Gardens’ courtyard, five-year-old kids pass by with their schoolbags, twelve-years-old street urchins swing on the sidewalks, while teenagers get initiated into street crimes with their first petty thefts. At 25 they probably already have spent some time in a rat-infested cell of the Pollsmoor prison, one of the most brutal and overcrowded institute of the country, where prisoner sleep with other hundreds of people in the same cell building tremendous anger by the time they are out; at 30 they are done, their life is totally ruined.

When do they lose themselves? At what moment do they get lost?

Cohabitation, yet segregation

According to crime statistics released by the Parliament in December 2018, South Africa records an average of 56 murders, 110 rapes, and 139 robberies every day. An increasing trend compared to the past years.

Governmental solutions to curb violence do not contemplate reforms that could boost social inclusion or enhanced welfare programs. The South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and his Government, opted for a policy of social discrimination.

The underprivileged communities are left behind, confined in “cities within the city” – eventually surrounded by a fence like Albow Garden’s one – and excluded from the economic life.

The government blames these communities for being the major cause of crime in the country; yet, the crime itself origins in the marginalization and abandonment of these people.

Some communities that could even coexist beyond ethnic differences and cooperate are pushed against one another instead.

A similar approach prevails in dealing with the Albow Gardens community flat: the security apparatus cracks down on small fishes selling drugs, leaving untouched the wider – and far more dangerous – criminal network run by big sharks.

Police raids are the only actions taken by the government in the community flat. Its residents are left alone inside their fence.

Twenty-five years after the end of Apartheid, social integration remains an elusive, distant goal in inter-racial Albow Gardens, as in the rest of South Africa.

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